Capitalism For the Rest of Us

Restoring the Free Market

a FutureViews Exercise

When I was young and and impressionable youth sitting at the feet of Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Brandon and Alan Greenspan, I was imbued with the idea of Capitalism as a moral political ideal. I studied the free market advocates including Lugwig von Mises, Hayek and actually read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations something that I am beginning to think contemporary apostles of what passes for Capitalism today have failed to do. I rarely use the term Capitalism anymore because of what is being done in its name. I have an Evangelical Christen friend and when I asked him to explained the somewhat bloody history of Christianity he said that this was was not true Christianity and not “real” Christians who did this. Well, I guess there are not too many real Capitalists either. After the Enron Era I saw an article about a number of senior executives who , all caught up in the scandals, had formed a support group and were reading Atlas Shrugged for comfort. It seems that they did not realize that to Ayn Rand they would be the villains in the story - not the heroes. I often wished she had lived awhile longer - her commentary on the present scene would be worth reading. I am not sure, however, that there would be a medium capable of taking the heat. I guess our wayward executives not only failed to read Adam Smith they must have failed to learn how to read. What this leaves us is a highly muddled mess. I tend to use the term free enterprise at it states clearly the principles involved. I guess the early advocates of capitalism who saw the government as the enemy never foresaw the day when “capitalists” would buy the government and out-source it back to themselves. All of this has been very disappointing to a young idealist who believed in a free market with no government favors. You see, I have always been a political misfit. In the Liberal era, I was called a fascist. For some time, my conservative acquaintances called me a communist. Both “left” and “right” - not useful terms - held these opinions simultaneously as I tried to advance the idea of a truly free market. I have not been called a communist lately as now, it seems, there are “bad” Communists and “good” ones. The bad ones are those who keep us from buying their countries’ assets at a discount and the good ones are those who lend us money, buy tons and tons of automobiles and build components for our weapon systems. You just have to keep with the times. If I were cynical, I would have to draw the conclusion that money, power and control of resources have become more important than the old ideas of freedom, true markets and keeping government out of business and business out of government [link: jacobs systems of survival]. It seems those who can position themselves in the political system like socialism (government contracts, subsidies and tax breaks) for their companies and capitalism (“compete” in a “free” market) for everyone else especially single mothers on welfare and “emerging” countries with no cash and infrastructure but lots of resources to “sell.” Ideology is no longer important unless useful to bludgeon the opposition into silence. Ideas are no longer something to discuss and apply they have become weapons with which to silence opposition.
There is a story I remember reading - I have no idea of its veracity - that when Nixon went to China, in a personal meeting with Zhou En Lai, Nixon asked him what he thought of Capitalism. Supposedly, Zhou replied “we think it is as good idea.” An amusing response and made more so by recent developments. It seems that “Capitalism” can marry up with Communism just as easily as it was able to do with fascism, in the 1930s, as long as the profits are high enough. Myself, I find it increasingly difficult to keep the “isms” defined as something different from one another. I am inclined to think that the real issue we had with the Communists, during the Cold War, is that they were “godless” and had the presumption to compete with us by offering an alternative to our perfect system. I say this because I observe we have had no problems dealing with scores of dictators who at least went to church - presumably - and did not have such lofty ambitions and were willing to give us almost unfettered access to their resources, as long as they got rich themselves, and were allowed to otherwise “run” their country the way they wanted to. In 1963, I was talking with Any Rand and I asked her the following question. “if you were elected President of the U.S. with a congress and a full mandate to develop the kind of constitutional republic, free enterprise system you advocate, how long would it take?” Without blinking an eye she said “10 years, 10 years minimum.” She went on to explain “to do it faster would put millions of people at risk whose only fault was to believe what they had been told.” Millions,” she said “would lose everything and this would be evil.” Now, the 60s were much simpler times than today and no one has ever accused Rand of being a bleeding heart so you do have to think a bit about some of our present policies pursued in the name of freedom. I think we could rightfully call our present system “crony-capitalism,” or “state-capitalism,” or “shock-capitalism” or maybe good old fashioned fascism without, yet, the chronic bad temper, overt use of domestic force and fancy boots. I do not believe, today, that we practice anything that can be legitimately be called Capitalism as a serious political economic system. Like Zhou supposedly said “We think it is a good idea.”
As I get older and read more history, I came to realize that the “America” I grew up in was always more aspiration than reality. I now also realize that it took a great deal of risk, blood and pain to get to where were when we were at our best. The issues we struggle with today are not new - they have been debated over and over these last several centuries. The pendulum between repression and freedom, between fear and confidence, moves back and forth. 2008 is not the best of times nor is the worst of times. As always, what we do - or not - is important. In our era we are dealing with new challenges and even if they look familiar they cannot necessarily be solved they way there were in the past. This Paper will explore ways that we can re-ignite the idea and practice of a free market while avoiding the many obvious abuses that have so tarnished the concept of Capitalism as a moral. political, economic ideal.
Matt Taylor
July 14, 2008

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posted: July 14, 2008

revised: August 2, 2010
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(note: this document is about 8% finished)

Matt Taylor 615 720 7390

Copyright© Matt Taylor 2008, 2010

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